Insights Ofcom sets out initial views on the future of mobile markets and spectrum

Ofcom has published a discussion paper on its future approach to mobile markets, setting out the regulator’s initial thinking on how mobile markets might develop and how networks may need to evolve to meet future demand. The document also explains how Ofcom might adapt its approach accordingly.

Ofcom says that demand for mobile services has grown rapidly over the last decade. The mobile market has served the UK well, driven largely by competition among four national mobile network operators (MNOs). Ofcom expects that growth to continue, with more demand for data-hungry services. MNOs will continue to play a significant role, but Ofcom also expects to see an increased role for other companies in providing mobile networks and selling mobile services. Given the changes taking place, Ofcom is considering whether and how it might adapt its regulatory approach.

Ofcom says that it will take steps to clarify its future regulatory approach to support investment. It also proposes to set out more clearly how it has considered investment when making future policy decisions. Ofcom currently has no plans to introduce any new consumer pricing rules but if new problems do emerge that require further intervention, it says that it would be ready to act.

Ofcom has also set out its position on mobile consolidation. The regulator’s stance on a potential merger would be informed by the specific circumstances of that particular merger, rather than just the number of competitors.

As for mobile spectrum, Ofcom recognises that it is an important and finite resource which is essential for mobile networks. Large amounts of spectrum have been made available for mobile below 4 GHz, but demand for spectrum is growing across multiple sectors and Ofcom expects this to continue.

Accordingly, Ofcom has published a discussion paper on meeting future demand for mobile data, which considers the possible future demand for mobile services and the implications for spectrum. Mobile networks will need to evolve to meet future demand and deliver the quality of experience needed by consumers and businesses, Ofcom says. There are a number of ways they might do this, including: wider and fuller use of current spectrum holdings, making use of planned spectrum releases, technology upgrades and deploying more sites including small cells.

Ofcom anticipates that existing mobile spectrum holdings and spectrum already planned for release are likely to be broadly sufficient to meet future demand to 2030 if networks adopt a range of strategies to do so.

Ofcom is inviting comments on both documents by 8 April 2022 and plans to provide further updates later in the year. To access the discussion paper on Ofcom’s future approach to mobile markets, click here. To access the discussion paper on meeting future demand for mobile data, click here.